Book: Royal by Winter Renshaw
Age/Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Reading Accoutrements: You’re going to need your suspension of disbelief for this one
Content Notes: Classism, Abuse, Drug Abuse, Rape, Statutory Rape, Incest, Fraud
If you know me – or if you’ve read any of my reviews in the past – you read the content notes for this post and thought, “Bethany read this? That doesn’t sound like her style…” You would be correct. The blurb for this book did NOT prepare me for the amount of traumatic experiences the characters have, which is a large part of why I have chosen to review it.
Royal Lockhart was Demi Rosewood’s brother’s best friend, a foster kid who hung out at their house all the time growing up. As teenagers, Royal and Demi became high school sweethearts: first kiss, first love, etc. The Rosewoods loved Royal and he thought of them as his family. Until one day, during Demi’s senior year of high school, Royal disappeared. While Demi’s father clearly knew where Royal had gone, he simply told the rest of the family that Royal was gone and would not return.
Demi had a bit of a breakdown at that point – a lot of crying and refusing to eat and generally being depressed. Her family basically started to pretend that Royal never existed, refusing to even talk about him. She moved on with her life, went to college, became a kindergarten teacher, and started dating again.
Fast forward 7 years: Demi is engaged to a pillar of the Rixton Falls community: Brooks Abbott, an investment advisor who has built the retirement funds of many residents of the city. She is a kindergarten teacher at a local school, with a boss and coworkers that she loves. One night, Brooks meets her at the door with bags packed and says he can’t marry Demi. He drives away and promptly drives his C-Class off a bridge (accidentally), ending up in a coma.
Demi doesn’t know what Brooks will remember when (or if) he finally wakes up. If she were to tell people he left her the night of his accident, the timing would seem to coincidental to an outside observer – and appearances matter to the Rosewoods and the Abbotts. Now, Demi is stuck pretending to be a doting and concerned fiance to the man who walked out on her less than 48 hours ago. To top it off, she soon discovers that Brooks took out credit cards in her name and she is six figures in debt. Paying that amount of money off on a Kindergarten teacher’s salary would be impossible. She stops by the liquor store on her way home from the hospital and proceeds to drink more alcohol than she probably should. So, it’s no surprise that when Royal shows up on her doorstep, her first reaction is to puke on his shoes.
Up until this point, the narration has entirely been from Demi’s perspective. For the remainder of the book, the narration switches between Demi and Royal. I’ll be honest, I was grateful for the break from Demi’s perspective at this point, because the amount of moping and martyrdom pouring out of Demi was getting oppressive.
Royal feels guilty for partially causing Demi’s situation. He confronted Brooks with an ultimatum: leave Demi or leave the other woman (of course there’s another woman). Royal blames himself for Brooks’s distracted driving that led to his accident. He shows up at Demi’s house to offer his help. When Demi throws up on his shoes, he rolls up his sleeves and helps her get cleaned up and into bed. The next morning, instead of being grateful, Demi is furious that he showed up at another low point in her life. She wants to know why he disappeared, but Royal won’t tell her until they get to know each other again.
So much drama! And it only gets worse. I don’t really want to spoil the plot if you’re interested in the story, but suffice it to say that the people of Rixton Falls have an unbelievably large amount of drama for such a small town. That’s why I suggest you bring a large amount of suspension of disbelief with you as you read this book.
Renshaw wrote in her “Afterward” that she wanted to write a male protagonist with more depth than the male characters in her other work. I haven’t read any of Renshaw’s other works, but I wonder what her definition of “depth” is. While Royal clearly has a terrible family history and loves Demi, he seems pretty one-dimensionally broody. In fact, if someone were to ask me what “brooding” means, I would point to this guy. He is the quintessential brooding auto mechanic with lean muscles, tattoos, and a lot of attitude – not to mention all of his secrets! Despite what some might think, brooding secrecy does not equal depth of character. In Royal’s case, it makes his character even more flat because all the reader experiences is his anger at the circumstances that led to his secret-keeping and no real remorse for keeping secrets in the first place.
I’m not saying the guy doesn’t deserve to brood. Royal’s life sucks. Aside from the drug-addict mother who neglected her kids until Child Protective Services took them to foster care, a series of terrible foster families and a teenaged sister with a 40-year-old abusive drug dealer boyfriend kept Royal stressed through his entire young life. The only bright spot in his life was the Rosewood family, who basically abandoned him in his time of need. He’s trying to get his life back together, and doing a pretty good job of it, when he goes to see Demi for the first time in almost a decade.
Demi’s life hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, but she grew up in a well-to-do family with parents who love and care about their children and she had everything she asked for growing up. Her only really interesting character trait is only briefly mentioned when she’s a teenager – she feels like something bad is going to happen to her, so she has a hard time being as optimistic as the rest of her family. Teenaged her feels like an outsider because of the dark cloud she feels is looming. Adult her feels like those feelings are justified after what went down with Royal.
The two of them are not great communicators. Royal keeps his family and his past a secret from everyone. Demi keeps Brooks’s betrayal, her stress and insecurities, and even Royal’s return a secret from her family for as long as possible. There were a couple of points in the book where I thought the only thing tying the two of them together was their shared, secret-keeping broodishness. (Yes, I made that word up.)
The part of the book that I found most irritating was the hypocrisy of Demi’s family. Early in the book, all of the Rosewoods talk about the fact that Royal is family. They treat him like family, too. He lives in their basement when he’s aged out of the foster system, they hold meals until he can be present for family dinners, and he comes on vacations with them. Until he genuinely needs help and Demi’s father makes the unilateral decision that no one shall speak the name “Royal” in their household again. No one questions it! Not his “best friend” – Demi’s brother. Not his girlfriend, who claims to love him. Not the people who he thought of as surrogate parents. Suddenly, he is vilified for all eternity because the patriarch said it must be so. Ugh!
This book is the first in a series about the Rosewoods of Rixton Falls. If your favorite books are full of angst and drama right up until the happily ever after, check this series out.